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Porterville Unified marks bright day
Solar-energy project begins paying off
With an opening to the Beatles’ song, “Here Comes the Sun,” officials with Porterville Unified School District officially marked Friday the completion of its $23 million solar-energy project.
Officials gathered under the sturdy solar panel carport on the Monache High School campus to mark what Superintendent John Snavely called an “historic occasion.”
The project that began over a year ago installed large solar-energy fields at five sites in the district. Besides Monache, the solar panels were constructed at Harmony Magnet Academy, Porterville High School, Granite Hills High School and at the Adult School.
The PHS project was completed first almost a year ago. That was followed by Granite Hills and the Adult School. The final two were Monache and Harmony.
“This project is truly ambitious,” said PUSD board member Pete Lara. He said the solar panels — nearly 10,000 in all — will save the district $44 million in reduced energy costs and rebates over the next 25 years.
“This supports a healthier community and savings can support student programs. All dollars saved go right into the general fund,” said Lara.
Bill Kelly with SunPower Corporation that did the work, said the system collectively generates about 4 megawatts of power. “It’s like a small power plant,” he said.
While the PHS and Adult School fields are stationary, the panels at Monache, Granite Hills and Harmony track the sun, producing about 25% more electricity a day than the other fields, said Kelly. He added each system is designed to cover about 90% of electricity costs of each site. Snavely said the Adult School site right now is actually producing more than 100% because it was designed for future growth at that site.
All of the electricity is sent directly into Southern California Edison’s grid.
A bonus to the project is that students in the district’s AERO Academy that focuses on alternative energy got to spend a week with SunPower during construction this summer.
Lara said 16 students got hands-on learning, an opportunity not lost on student Morgan Whinery.
He said they learned how solar power works and that the panels installed were the most energy efficient available today.
“This solar program will be a positive impact on the district for many decades to come,” said the Harmony Magnet Academy senior.
Kelly said the company was glad to host the students and that experience enabled them to learn as well. “We learned from you guys, how to bring technology into the classroom,” he said.
Snavely said the learning opportunity was huge and he thanked SunPower for allowing the students to participate.
Rebates lower costs
Snavely said while total cost of the solar panels is $23 million, the district will receive approximately $10 million in rebates. “We should be able to recoup our investment in eight to 10 years,” he said.
The project was funded through the Qualified School Construction Bond — a multi-million dollar loan negotiated in July of 2010 at a net cost of 1.54% over a 17-year term.
Kelly said the system will require little maintenance and the panels are built to last 40 to 50 years. He said they are guaranteed for 25 years.
“This is an investment that is really going to pay dividends,” said Kelly.